Each year millions of people make a stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While this is a great place to become more familiar with the park, there is much more to see than the exhibits and bookstore inside. Short trails near the building give you a chance to sample much of what awaits you in the park and that includes a picturesque waterfall that is extremely easy to find.
Just past the restrooms and vending machines a small trail leads into the forested area behind the visitor’s center. It runs beside one of those clear mountain streams that are a big draw in the Smokies. Along the trail there are markers telling you about the trees and vegetation you are seeing.
The trail crosses the stream near a tree that time has worn in such a way kids will find it hard to resist crawling inside its trunk. Just a short distance away the trail crosses under the road and heads up a bit and to the right. Within a few hundred yards, you find yourself at the base of Cataract Falls.
Don’t expect anything big. The stream flowing over the dark rocks is probably about 15 to 20 feet high, but its simple beauty makes it definitely worth the ¼ mile walk. Rhododendrons line up along both sides of the waterfall. At the bottom, the water keeps flowing over some smaller rocks instead of collecting in a pool.
You will find some ropes off to the left of the falls that make it possible to walk up to the top, but there are also signs reminding you to stay on the trails to help prevent erosion. Whatever you decide to do, take time to enjoy this simple work of Mother Nature before heading back to your car.